May 17, 2015 by auntkatefirmin
Timeline for Michael Lane Firmin, Uncle of the American Kate Firmin.
1859 Born in Corsham, Wiltshire, and baptised at St Pancras, it seems likely “Mick” was named after an (as yet unknown) friend or business partner. Cousin Fan, in particular, seems to call him Mick but there’s no way to know how he introduced himself outside the family.
1869 He was ten the year both his father and his brother Osborne died. Little is known about Michael in particular. If it is true that he became an engineer, it seems likely he had some mechanical aptitude though he may not have had much opportunity for advanced education.
1875 He was 16 when his mother died and considered old enough to leave school and support himself. Whether it was based on opportunity and chance or a deliberate decision, Mick left for Africa at an unknown date and, according to his nieces, only returned for one visit. After 1871, there are no English records for Mick – did he journey to Africa around 1880 when he turned 21? A reasonable assumption is that he was in Africa by the 1891 census. Family correspondence has him working as an ostrich farmer, in the diamond mines, and associated with Cecil Rhodes. All the stories could have an element of truth.
1893 There is a record for a military medal awarded to Michael L Firmin in 1893 for service in Matabeleland as a trooper in the Victoria Column. As part of this service he would have entered Bulawayo with the column which came from Fort Victoria. This would not have been regular military service as it was undertaken under the authority of the British South Africa Company (chartered 1889). Many contemporary photographs can be seen at To The Victoria Falls. His participation would have entitled him to cattle, mining claims and land in the territory seized from the Matabele. Further research is needed to determine what (if any) records remain related to these allocations.
1905 During a visit of about six months ending in September 1905, he is said to have been very taken with his pretty niece Constance Trotter, buying her a cerise-colored hat. For at least part of his visit he stayed with his sister Kate in Woking. The photo at the head of the post dates from this visit. At 46 Mick was still quite a handsome man – he was rumored to have spent all his money on a romantic entanglement during his visit home causing his brother to have to pay his passage back to Africa.
His last letter from Africa had a return address of the Plum Tree Inn, Bulawayo, so it’s interesting to speculate that during his time in Africa he remained primarily in the region of modern Zimbabwe just across the river from where his brother Osborne hunted elephants back in 1869. Given that the family did not hear from him in later years, it’s reasonable to assume he died of illness or in an accident in Africa and there was not enough information for any executor to locate a current address for the family.
By 1939 when the family was looking for surviving members of his generation as part of the Trotter Estate settlement, Mick would have been 80. The correspondence from his niece Fanny (Firmin) Hall is not entirely clear on the dates, if any, when she tried to contact him prior to 1939. At least one of the cousins wrote to his bankers some time prior to 1939, but was unable to get a lead on when he had last been living in Bulawayo.
Since all the correspondence with the American Kate was so long after 1939, it’s hard to be certain when Mick’s last letter was received; in addition, he was probably writing to one of his sisters and they were no longer in close contact with each other even at the time of his visit. Since it is not clear idea when and where he died, I have not yet done more than assume that he died before 1939 as Fanny did advertise in English language international papers and received no response.
As more African records are digitized – any more importantly, indexed – the mystery could yet be solved.